SPUG: Musing on Language and Culture

Michael R. Wolf MichaelRWolf at att.net
Thu Dec 16 19:04:25 PST 2010

A language isn't just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical
rules.  A language is a flash of the human spirit.  It's a vehicle
through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the
world.  Every language is an old growth forest of the mind, a
watershed of thought, an ecosystem of spiritual and social

 -- Wade Davis

I recently re-stumbled upon this quote, and it reminded me of a moment on "Perl Whirl '02", after Larry had given one of his early talks about Perl6.  

First, a bit of back story by way of a Larry quote:  "Perl 5 was my rewrite of Perl.  I want Perl 6 to be the community's rewrite of Perl and of The Community".

After the Perl Whirl talk, I was unable to get to Larry to ask my question, so I posed it to Gloria, his wife:  "What's more important?  The Language or The Culture."

In an instant, I saw many dimensions collapse.  Gloria's answer was
 * Not just her answer, but Larry's, too.  
 * Not just as a linguist (they both studied linguistics at SPU), but also as a Perl expert (remember who she hangs out with -- she learned more about Perl as "pillow talk" than most folks learn in a career.  In fact, during the talk, he occasionally asked her to re-reflect some of his earlier thinking on a difficult technical issue.  She acted as "auxiliary memory", of sorts.)
 * Not just about computer culture, or computer languages, but about all of humanity.

It tied a lot of things together for me.

    Me:  What's more important:  The Language or The Culture?
    Gloria:  You can't separate Language from Culture!

Very insightful.  Some rich cultures and languages immediately came to mind.
  Canadian French vs English
  Open Source
  Occupational (e.g. Medical, Engineering, Musical, Finance, Biology, Construction, Farming...)
  Political (Red/Blue, Socialist, Capitalist, Business, Environmental)
  Religious (Catholic/Protestant, Christian/Muslim/Jewish, Open Source/MSFT, emacs/vi, tabs/spaces... :-)

Very interesting to me, these inseparable notions of Language and Culture.

Michael R. Wolf
    All mammals learn by playing!
        MichaelRWolf at att.net

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